2013 was the year of big changes in the SEO world. Google pushed out several major updates that sent thousands of site scrambling to recover from past bad actions. A lot of link building methods and tactics that used to work either lost value or were entirely debunked thanks to Penguin and changes to the Webmaster Guidelines. The entire search algorithm was actually updated, akin to putting a new engine in an old car. Let’s take a look at all the ways SEO changed in 2013 to make sure we’re starting our 2014 campaigns off on the right foot!
Penguin 2.0 was pushed out in May. Google’s Matt Cutts called Penguin 2.0 more comprehensive and deeper than Penguin 1.0. Additionally, Cutts has stated that “Penguin 2.0 drilled deeper into websites to look for spam; analyzing internal pages as opposed to just the homepage of websites.”
Penguin 2.1 went live in October. Some sites that were flagged by Penguin 2.0 were able to recover, but others that were unable to clean up their link profile enough between May and October may have been whacked twice by Penguin in 2013.
The various Penguin updates of 2013 show that Google is intent on closing any link building loopholes that may still exist. We can only imagine that the Penguin net is going to get more and more sophisticated in 2014 so if you are involved in any kind of dubious link building STOP! Insist on 100% transparency with your SEO provider and make sure they are only building the kinds of links that Google will reward.
If you are interested in seeing all the algorithm updates that Google pushed out this year Moz has a great tool they regular update (and it actually goes back to 2000).
In July Google quietly updated their Webmaster Guidelines, changing some of the fundamentals of link building forever. Here are few of the changes site owners must take note of:
1. Large-scale article marketing or guest posting campaigns with keyword-rich anchor text links
2. Links with optimized anchor text in articles or press releases distributed on other sites.
3. Low-quality directory or bookmark site links
4. Forum comments with optimized links in the post or signature
These updates sent many SEO providers and marketers into a tail-spin, forcing them to cleanup past online press releases to ensure they were in-line with the new Webmaster Guidelines. We heard from our representative at PRWeb that the company was 100% committed to following these new rules and would ensure that all links from their releases would be nofollow. However, other PR distribution sites refused to adjust the way they did business and add nofollow links. In 2014, should you sent out an online press release, make sure you are adhering to the new guidelines every time.
It is best you nofollow links in stories you write, especially when those stories are guest blog posts for the purpose of link building.” Guest blogging was a wildly popular addition to content marketing and link building campaigns in 2013 because it worked so well. You got a few links from quality websites, got to interact with potential customers, and helped build your brand’s authority. But, like any good SEO tactic, the spammers ruined it for the rest of us by pushing it over the edge of acceptable.
Only submit guest blogs to sites that are relevant, have some kind of authority on their own, can help connect you with potential customers, and can drive traffic to your site. DO NOT GUEST BLOG SIMPLY FOR THE LINK. And any links you may get (like in the author bio) be sure they are nofollow and are branded anchor text only.
At the end of September Google announced their new algorithm, Hummingbird, was live. In actuality the new algorithm had been running for about a month before Google went public with the news (and no one really noticed anything!). Unlike Panda and Penguin, which were updates to the existing algorithm, Hummingbird is a completely new algorithm. Hummingbird still uses Panda and Penguin, as well as other “old parts” from the previous search algorithm, but it’s an entirely new system.
Google said that Hummingbird is paying more attention to each word in a query, ensuring that the whole query — the whole sentence or conversation or meaning — is taken into account, rather than particular words. The goal is that pages matching the meaning do better, rather than pages matching just a few words.
Google says it believes that users will see more precise results, but that Hummingbird is “unlikely to noticeably affect certain categories of Web businesses.”
Starting on September 23rd, all Google organic searches would become “not provided.” Google is reportedly moving to switch all users to secure search regardless of whether or not they’re signed in. Danny Sullivan over at Search Engine Land confirmed this from Google directly;
We want to provide SSL protection to as many users as we can, in as many regions as we can — we added non-signed-in Chrome omnibox searches earlier this year, and more recently other users who aren’t signed in. We’re going to continue expanding our use of SSL in our services because we believe it’s a good thing for users….
The motivation here is not to drive the ads side — it’s for our search users.
Reporting is going to be a lot harder in 2014 without this data, but Google suggests using AdWords and Webmaster Tools data to fill in the holes.
Google announced a new feature to the SERPs, in-depth articles August 6. The goal was to give searchers more in-depth and complex information right from the SERPs as they needed it. These in-depth results appear in a separate block (usually at the bottom of the page) with a large thumbnail image, title, snippets, the source website, and the source logo. Do a search for “US presidency” and you’ll see exactly what it looks like.
Image Carousel and Knowledge Graph
If you’re still on the “US presidency” results page chances are you noticed a series of images across the top of the SERPs. These are part of Google’s image carousel, which is in turn a part of the new Knowledge Graph. The knowledge graph is also responsible for pulling those boxes of information you see on the side of the SERPs when you search for something. Basically Google is trying to pull as much relevant information into the SERPs as possible so searchers don’t even have to visit the actual website if they are just looking for a quick answer.